Two Poems by Alyssa Harley
The Ghost in My Building
I have a ghost in my building, the ghost of a man who lived across the hall from me just before I moved in. He emigrated from Pakistan and went first to Texas where he worked at an all-night gas station. The business was regularly held up, as much as every other day, so the owner of the gas station kept a legal gun under the counter. One night the man from Pakistan was arrested for gun possession because of this gun. His case was dismissed, but the danger of the job made him decide to leave Texas and come to New York.
The man had a wife and children he left behind to whom he would send most of his money. It kept him from being able to visit them often, only about once every year and a half, although each visit also led to a new pregnancy. He worked as a cabbie in New York. From the accounts of his fellow cabbies, the man was particularly industrious one. He spent most of the time in his head with his family, although he didn’t spend money to call them regularly. He was saving, either for a better life at home, or to bring them all here.
One day some government agents came into my building and, on the basis of his nationality and the dismissed gun charge in Texas, they arrested the man to examine whether he had any connection to terrorism. He had no American citizenship papers, so they were perfectly within their legal right to grab him and incarcerate him indefinitely. Then they lost his paperwork and forgot who he was.
The man languished in various places we imprisoned men like him around my city in the years after the Twin Towers bombing, in a facility by the Brooklyn shore in Sunset Park, inside another in Manhattan on Varick near Canal Street, and the largest in Rahway, New Jersey. His family were disturbed when a long time went by without a word from him and discovered when they began to enquire that no one in Brooklyn where he had gone. He had simply vanished. Vanishing isn’t abnormal in some groups of people who live in Brooklyn. The other cabbies simply assumed he had gone home to Pakistan without saying, in the way more than 100,000 others people from Pakistan fled from the oppression of living in Brooklyn during the four years leading up to 2005. When the family finally found representatives to stand up for them with the authorities, which took some months, the representatives were met with evasions. Since no one could find the paperwork, the government decided they didn’t have him and they never had. Investigators knew the government had to be lying.
The man suffered as his detention stretched into years. He developed a heart condition, even as his family was already demanding answers about him, but as far as the government was concerned, he didn’t exist. The man’s actual presence was a problem, resolved by shuffling his live body from facility to facility. This untreated heart condition worsened. After nearly three years of imprisonment, the man died. It was nearly two more years before his family received confirmation of his death, more than four years after they had begun their search for him.
So there is a ghost in my building, in the hall outside my door, on the elevator, in the lobby, in the laundry room, outside in front of the building walking in one direction or the next. If you look at the names listed in the apartments in the front vestibule, the man’s name is still next to the apartment he once lived in, twice inhabited by others since then. There is a ghost in my building and his name is Ibrahim.
Lead us not back into
harems, toil and birthing chambers.
Lead us not to separate,
grow small and thin, weak and fat.
What do you thinking I’m listening to
when I’m listening to you?
Are you missing blood and bones
to hear us when you ask?
Alyssa Kerec Harley is an artist out of Brooklyn in the 1960’s. Her works, including her spoken-word opera Number Ten Dream, are all published in heaven.